Originally created 03/19/00

Michigan State glides by Utah



CLEVELAND -- Michigan State was supposed to win, and Mateen Cleaves made sure of it.

Cleaves scored 21 points as the top-seeded Spartans rallied in the second half Saturday to earn a chance to play close to home next week with a 73-61 win over Utah in the second round of NCAA Midwest Regional.

Michigan State will play Syracuse on Thursday in the regional semifinals in Auburn Hills, Mich., about an 80-mile drive from the Spartans' East Lansing campus.

The fourth-seeded Orangemen moved on Saturday with a 52-50 win over fifth-seeded Kentucky.

Cleaves, a senior point guard who turned down NBA millions for a chance to win an NCAA title, scored 13 points in the second half when Michigan State (28-7) overcame a six-point deficit and blitzed the Utes with a 27-7 run.

During the spree, Cleaves did a little bit of everything. He made a pair of 3-pointers, set up his teammates for easy baskets, got the Michigan State crowd fired up and finally put away the eighth-seeded Utes (23-9).

"That's why he's a great leader," said Syracuse center Etan Thomas, who stuck around long enough to watch Michigan State open a 14-point lead in the second half.

Andre Hutson added 19 points and Morris Peterson 13 for Michigan State, now two victories away from getting back to a second straight Final Four.

Hanno Mottola led the Utes with 16 points, Tony Harvey had 15 and Alex Jensen 13 for the Utes, who shot 52 percent from the floor and made just nine turnovers.

Utah didn't figure to have much of a chance. Coach Rick Majerus was limited to just seven scholarship players because of injuries, but the Utes didn't back down from the start and led 35-32 at halftime.

Michigan State lost all three games it trailed at halftime during the regular season, and when Utah made its first four shots after halftime, the Spartans looked like they might be in trouble.

But Cleaves, who made four 3-pointers, wasn't going to let his stellar college career end this early.

His 3-pointer from the top of the key brought the Spartans within 43-42 with 16:36 left, and as he retreated on defense, Cleaves urged on the Michigan State cheering section and then screamed "Let's Go!" and slapped hands with his teammates as they passed him near midcourt.

Utah missed a chance to get some momentum back when Jeff Johnsen fumbled an alley-oop pass, and after a timeout, Cleaves made sure the Utes never got it back.

He split two defenders with a crossover dribble near the foul line, and then ducked under Mottola for a double-pumping layup to give the Spartans a 44-43 lead -- their first since 11-9.

Sensing the kill, Michigan State, which held Valparaiso to 25-percent shooting in the first round, then turned up its defensive pressure and suddenly the shots Utah was getting in the first half were gone.

Peterson and A.J. Granger hit 3-pointers as Michigan State opened a 57-47 lead, and Cleaves drained another trey with 7:30 remaining to make it 64-50.

A few moments later, Cleaves found Peterson for an alley-oop dunk that punctuated the win and got Spartans fans thinking about how they might get tickets for next week.